Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
 
IV. Quatrains and Translations
Quatrains
 
A. H.
HIGH 1 was her heart, and yet was well inclined,
Her manners made of bounty well refined;
Far capitals and marble courts, her eye still seemed to see,
Minstrels and kings and high-born dames, and of the best that be.
 
HUSH!
EVERY thought is public,
        5
Every nook is wide;
Thy gossips spread each whisper,
And the gods from side to side.
 
ORATOR
HE who has no hands
Perforce must use his tongue;        10
Foxes are so cunning
Because they are not strong.
 
ARTIST
QUIT the hut, frequent the palace,
Reck not what the people say;
For still, where’er the trees grow biggest,        15
Huntsmen find the easiest way. 2
 
POET
EVER the Poet from the land
Steers his bark and trims his sail;
Right out to sea his courses stand,
New worlds to find in pinnace frail.        20
 
POET
To clothe the fiery thought
In simple words succeeds,
For still the craft of genius is
To mask a king in weeds. 3
 
BOTANIST
Go thou to thy learned task,
        25
I stay with the flowers of Spring:
Do thou of the Ages ask
What me the Hours will bring.
 
GARDENER
TRUE Brahmin, in the morning meadows wet,
Expound the Vedas of the violet,        30
Or, hid in vines, peeping through many a loop,
See the plum redden, and the beurré stoop. 4
 
FORESTER
HE took the color of his vest
From rabbit’s coat or grouse’s breast;
For, as the wood-kinds lurk and hide,        35
So walks the woodman, unespied. 5
 
NORTHMAN
THE GALE that wrecked you on the sand,
It helped my rowers to row;
The storm is my best galley hand
And drives me where I go. 6        40
 
FROM ALCUIN
THE SEA is the road of the bold,
Frontier of the wheat-sown plains,
The pit wherein the streams are rolled
And fountain of the rains.
 
EXCELSIOR
OVER his head were the maple buds,
        45
And over the tree was the moon,
And over the moon were the starry studs
That drop from the angels’ shoon. 7
 
S. H.
WITH beams December planets dart
His cold eye truth and conduct scanned,        50
July was in his sunny heart,
October in his liberal hand. 8
 
BORROWING FROM THE FRENCH
SOME of your hurts you have cured,
And the sharpest you still have survived,
But what torments of grief you endured        55
From evils which never arrived!
 
NATURE
BOON Nature yields each day a brag which we now first behold,
And trains us on to slight the new, as if it were the old:
But blest is he, who, playing deep, yet haply asks not why,
Too busied with the crowded hour to fear to live or die. 9        60
 
FATE
HER planted eye to-day controls,
Is in the morrow most at home,
And sternly calls to being souls
That curse her when they come.
 
HOROSCOPE
ERE he was born, the stars of fate
        65
Plotted to make him rich and great:
When from the womb the babe was loosed,
The gate of gifts behind him closed. 10
 
POWER
CAST the bantling on the rocks,
Suckle him with the she-wolf’s teat,        70
Wintered with the hawk and fox,
Power and speed be hands and feet. 11
 
CLIMACTERIC
I AM not wiser for my age,
Nor skilful by my grief;
Life loiters at the book’s first page,—        75
Ah! could we turn the leaf.
 
HERI, CRAS, HODIE
SHINES the last age, the next with hope is seen,
To-day slinks poorly off unmarked between:
Future or Past no richer secret folds,
O friendless Present! than thy bosom holds.        80
 
MEMORY
NIGHT-DREAMS trace on Memory’s wall
Shadows of the thoughts of day,
And thy fortunes, as they fall,
The bias of the will betray. 12
 
LOVE
LOVE on his errand bound to go
        85
Can swim the flood and wade through snow,
Where way is none, ’t will creep and wind
And eat through Alps its home to find. 13
 
SACRIFICE
THOUGH love repine, and reason chafe,
There came a voice without reply,—        90
‘’T is man’s perdition to be safe,
When for the truth he ought to die.’ 14
 
PERICLES
WELL and wisely said the Greek,
Be thou faithful, but not fond;
To the altar’s foot thy fellow seek,—        95
The Furies wait beyond. 15
 
CASELLA
TEST of the poet is knowledge of love,
For Eros is older than Saturn or Jove;
Never was poet, of late or of yore,
Who was not tremulous with love-lore. 16        100
 
SHAKSPEARE
I SEE all human wits
Are measured but a few;
Unmeasured still my Shakspeare sits,
Lone as the blessed Jew.
 
HAFIZ
HER passions the shy violet
        105
From Hafiz never hides;
Love-longings of the raptured bird
The bird to him confides.
 
NATURE IN LEASTS
AS sings the pine-tree in the wind,
So sings in the wind a sprig of the pine;        110
Her strength and soul has laughing France
Shed in each drop of wine.
 
[Greek]
‘A NEW commandment,’ said the smiling Muse,
‘I give my darling son, Thou shalt not preach’;—
Luther, Fox, Behmen, Swedenborg, grew pale,        115
And, on the instant, rosier clouds upbore
Hafiz and Shakspeare with their shining choirs. 17
 
Note 1. Mr. Emerson’s Oriental studies may have given him the taste for this sort of verse. In the essay on Persian Poetry he says:—
  “The Persians have epics and tales, but, for the most part, they affect short poems and epigrams. Gnomic verses, rules of life conveyed in a lively image … addressed to the eye and contained in a single stanza, were always current in the East.” He gives among other specimens of these gnomic poems this:—
  “‘The secret that should not be blown
  Not one of thy nation must know;
You may padlock the gate of a town,
  But never the mouth of a foe.’”
This may have suggested the quatrain “Hush!” Certainly the form of the specimens he gives is suggestive. Most of the Quatrains seem to have been written between 1850 and 1860; one or two much earlier. [back]
Note 2. In the journal of 1850, Mr. Emerson speaks of the necessity of the great man being highly impressionable, and adds, “He obeys the main current,—that is all his secret, the main current is so feeble a force as can be felt only by bodies delicately poised. He can orient himself. In the woods, I have one guide, namely, to follow the light,—to go where the woods are thinnest; then at last I am sure to come out. So he cannot be betrayed or misguided, for he knows where the north is, knows painfully when he is going in the wrong direction.” [back]
Note 3. Compare Nature, Addresses and Lectures, p. 30, and Conduct of Life, p. 294. [back]
Note 4. Journal, July, 1840. “Go to the forest, if God has made thee a poet, and make thy life clean and fragrant as thy office.
  True Brahmin, in the morning meadows wet,
Expound the Vedas in the violet.
Thy love must be thy art…. Nature also must teach thee rhetoric. She can teach thee not only to speak truth, but to speak it truly.” [back]
Note 5. “Frozen leaves or grouse’s breast” was the early form. [back]
Note 6. Journal, 1853. “The Vikings sang, ‘the force of the storm is a help to the arm of our rowers; the hurricane is in our service; it carries us the way we would go.’”—Thierry’s Norman Conquest. [back]
Note 7. These lines date from May 1, 1838. [back]
Note 8. This quatrain is Mr. Emerson’s tribute to the upright citizen and lawyer, Samuel Hoar, the “Squire” of Concord, and father of his friends, Judge E. R. Hoar and Miss Elizabeth Hoar. Mr. Emerson’s sketch of his life is in Lectures and Biographical Sketches. [back]
Note 9. Compare, as to Nature’s ever new allurements, Essays, Second Series, p. 192. [back]
Note 10. The last two lines are from an Oriental source, and are also quoted in Conduct of Life, p. 10. [back]
Note 11. The motto of “Self-Reliance.” [back]
Note 12. See Essays, First Series, p. 148; also “Demonology,” in Lectures and Biographical Sketches. [back]
Note 13. Compare the ending of the verses in the Appendix, beginning,—
  Love
Asks nought its brother cannot give.
  Note-book. “It creeps where it cannot go, it creeps under the snows of Scandinavia, and Lofn is as mighty a divinity in the Norse Edda as Camadeva in the red vault of India.” [back]
Note 14. The last two lines are a rendering of a quotation from a sermon by Caleb Vines, a Puritan, on “Caleb’s integrity in following the Lord fully,” preached at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, before the Honourable House of Commons, November 30, 1642. [back]
Note 15. A Latin rendering of a Greek saying was spoken of by Mr. Emerson as the source of the quatrain. One asks a neighbor, “But are you not then my friend?” “Usque ad aras,” is the reply—As far as the altars. [back]
Note 16. When Dante met his friend Casella, the beautiful singer, in Purgatory, he begged him to sing. When Casella began, Amor che nella mente mi ragiona, the souls all flocked to hear. [back]
Note 17. The title signifies, “They enjoy a tearless age.”
  Mr. Emerson held the poet to his office of “joy-giver and enjoyer,” as he says in the poem “Saadi.” It is the more remarkable that he admits Swedenborg as a poet in the “Solution,” but it is on the score of his symbolism. [back]
 
 
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